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July 25, 2006

Frequent Flier: Well, You See, Officer, It Says ‘Bomb’ Because ...


WHEN you travel as much as I do, you have to have a sense of humor. No one else does.

There’s a number in our show called “Pack the Knife.” It’s about a nun trying to get through a security line at the airport. A Transportation Security Administration agent is frisking, manhandling and harassing her.

Meanwhile, everyone else is being waved through. A Viking with an axe, Darth Vader and Michael Jackson all breeze past the checkpoint.

The frustrated nun disappears and returns with a suitcase that says, “Acme A-Bomb” on it. And no one stops her, of course.

But try getting through a real checkpoint with that prop. Once, on our way back to Washington from Charleston, S.C., a security screener discovered the Acme “suitcase,” which is actually just a flat cardboard sign cut and painted to look like a suitcase.

Instantly, we were whisked out of line to a private holding area. A stone-faced state trooper watched our every move. No one was permitted to budge, not even for a bathroom break.

Twenty minutes later, the F.B.I. arrived.Fortunately, one of the agents was a Capitol Steps fan. Moments later, the agent released us with a wink, a smile — and an autographed CD for his daughter.

That’s not the first time we’ve been mistaken for criminals.

We were doing a sold-out show in Eugene, Ore. About an hour and a half before the performance, three cast members — Ann Schmitt, Jamie Zemarel and I — decided to run out for coffee. As we left the coffee shop with our lattes and mochas, we were surrounded by police cars, their lights flashing.

It turns out that our rental van matched the description of a vehicle that had been involved in a hit-and-run accident earlier that day. The officers interrogated us separately. They were especially interested in Jamie, because he vaguely matched the description of the suspect.

Time was ticking away. I called our cast leader, Michael Loomis, at the theater. “Don’t say anything to the promoters,” I murmured into my cellphone, “but we’re being held by the police.”

Ten minutes before showtime, we finally convinced the cops to let us get back to the auditorium in time for the performance. We were given a police escort.

They posted two officers outside of the theater, and one in the wings. Poor Jamie, one of the actors who plays George Bush, spent the entire first act entertaining a packed audience onstage and then getting the third degree backstage. I don’t know how he did it.

Just before intermission, the person whose car was hit by the van showed up and was asked to identify Jamie. “This isn’t the guy,” he said. With that, the police vanished and the rest of the show went off without a hitch.

As told to Christopher Elliott.